There is arguably nothing more stressful than having a child with a life-threatening medical problem; the unanswered questions, along with seeing your child with tubes connecting him or her to a wall monitor, is enough to send a parent’s stress level into the stratosphere. The employees and volunteers at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park empathize with these feelings, and do whatever they are able to combat them. Approximately three years ago, Gale Morgan-Williams, program coordinator for ParentWISE, co-championed a successful program called “Knit Night,” aimed at teaching parents of patients in the hospital how to knit.
ParentWISE, which stands for Wisdom In Shared Experience, is comprised of over a hundred parents of former patients who volunteer their time and experience to bring comfort and understanding to the families of current patients. The “Knit Night” was founded by Morgan-Williams and Evelyn Arkebauer, a volunteer whose own knitting helped her pass the time in hospitals while her own child was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as a result of brain damage from birth. “Nothing can change the fact that you have a sick child,” says Morgan-Williams, “but you can learn ways to pass the time so it’s not the only thing you think about.”
Two knitting volunteers meet with parents every Wednesday night in the Brown Family Life Center, which is the family-friendly room for inpatient children and their families, offering a place of retreat from the experience of the rest of the hospital. The yarn, needles, and notions used are donated by volunteers, and the new knitters are able to leave the room with a craft bag full of goodies to carry and continue the project started in the first knitting lesson.
Since people from all over the globe come to CMH for their children to receive treatment for particular diseases or circumstances surrounding their illnesses, language challenges would seemingly be an obstacle for parents wanting to participate in “Knit Night.” Not so, says Morgan-Williams. “The great thing about knitting is that it doesn’t matter what language you speak, since it is mostly a visual activity.” Other stereotypes are broken weekly in this group, as several fathers have participated in this activity, and members of the Deaf community have also shown that both communicating and creating with your hands can be done concurrently. There is a bilingual-Spanish volunteer who assists with the program about once per month.
For longer-term patients, a spinoff program was created for the children in the hospital who would like to learn to knit. The yarn and needles for the kids program are supplied by the hospital itself. In addition to the Brown Family Life Center, a volunteer can teach a child to knit at his or her bedside.
Like all hospitals, special considerations are taken into account when choosing materials and using accepted donations. For instance, machine-washable 100% natural-fiber yarn (preferably wool superwash yarn) is used over synthetic fibers, and circular needles are preferred to straight needles because they are safer to use and more difficult to misplace. Craft bags used are mostly canvas, denim, cotton, or cotton-polyester blend, and are medium-sized.
The program accepts monetary donations and knitting-supply donations, however, used supplies and yarn which does not conform to hospital guidelines can also be donated to the hospital-affiliated resale shop located on Lincoln Avenue, the White Elephant. More information can be obtained by speaking with Justyna Griffin at 773-883-6169, or by browing the donations page on the CMH website at http://www.childrensmemorial.org/friends/giftcards.aspx.
Learning to knit has been a thriving program at Children’s Memorial Hospital for a few years. The support and stories shared during “Knit Night” by volunteers who have had similar situations in their own lives has been invaluable, showing parents that passing their time with a new craft and the support of others may be unorthodox to him or her, but it is invaluable to counteract the negative effects of the ordeal of having a child in the hospital.